In-person school has been driving Montreal COVID-19 infection rates: study

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By Adam Kovac, CTV Montreal

MONTREAL — Students attending class in-person is contributing to the spread of COVID-19 in Montreal, according to a new study.

“The transmission of COVID among school-age children is not a consequence, but rather a determinant of the general level of infection in surrounding communities,” the researchers wrote.

The study was conducted by researchers at Universite de Montreal, George Washington University and CovidEcolesQuebec.org.

According to their data, the Montreal boroughs with the highest levels of COVID cases among children under age 19 are in areas with “the highest number of schools reporting COVID-19 cases and the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in schools.”

During the extended winter break, they said, data shows the number of COVID-19 infections in school-age children declined, even while cases were exploding in the rest of the population.

“Our analysis suggests we can expect a further increase in COVID-19 cases once schools are re-opened in person,” they wrote, adding it could prove disastrous due to the high levels of infection already seen in the population.

“This increase will strongly limit other containment measures adopted by the government. This could therefore accelerate the exceeding of hospital capacities.”

 

While the authors acknowledge the important of school for children's “development and mental health,” they recommend limiting the number of children attending classes until case numbers are reduced drastically.

Once schools do reopen, they recommend compulsory mask-wearing for all primary and secondary school students and staff, social distancing at all times, and effective ventilation in all schools.

They also call for a more stringent isolation protocol for students awaiting the results of a COVID test “to prevent relatives (espeically parents and siblings) from continuing to attend school, potentially spreading the infection," they wrote.

To that effect, they recommend implementing rapid screening.

Earlier this week, the Quebec government said it has no need to implement rapid screening in the province. 

OPINION SPLIT ON RETURN TO SCHOOL

While the researchers oppose a complete return to school at the present moment, not everyone is on board.

Last week, a major union came out in support of schools re-opening, with the caveat that they would like the government to install air purifiers in classes. Some teachers have opposed the return to class, citing concerns over the virus.

Katherine Korakakis, president of the English Parents' Committee Association, said a return to school is urgently needed.

“There's the aspect of kids falling further and further behind and now, with grade schools not really having online learning, the gap is going to just get bigger,” she said.

“Don't forget, parents have been on full-time duty since March. We haven't had a break. We've had to make everything work, dealing with our kids being home and isolated, the gaps in learning. There doesn't seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel at times.”

- With files from CTV's Matt Grillo 

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